The National Trust In Sussex

The National Trust In Sussex

This year the National Trust celebrates its 125th anniversary. With the help of its supporters, the conservation charity – Europe’s largest – protects and cares for nature, beauty and history for the nation to enjoy. And entirely independent of Government, it’s all thanks to the 5.6 million members, 65,000 volunteers and 14,000 staff that support it. Without their help, the organisation wouldn’t be able to care for the 780 miles of coastline, over 250,000 hectares of countryside, hundreds of historic buildings, gardens and precious collections that it protects.

In Sussex this includes Capability Brown’s famous landscaped grounds at Petworth Park, Nymans’ romantic, flower-filled gardens, and acres of wildlife-rich downland, woods and heath on the South Downs.


In 1895, the National Trust’s founders, Octavia Hill, Robert Hunter and Hardwicke Rawnsley pledged to preserve our historical and natural places. Their aim was not only to save important sites, but to open them up for everyone to enjoy. From this trio of environmental pioneers, the National Trust was created – and their original values are still at the heart of everything we do 125 years later.

“We all want quiet. We all want beauty…. We all need space. Unless we have it, we cannot reach that sense of quiet in which whispers of better things come to us gently.”

Octavia Hill, Co-founder of the National Trust

Today, the charity is also a key player in the campaign to tackle climate change – the single biggest threat to the precious landscapes and historic houses it cares for. From changing the way it manages its gardens and cutting carbon emissions, to restoring wildlife habitats, it’s adapting in many ways. To help mark its 125th anniversary milestone, the Trust has committed to becoming carbon net zero by 2030, planting and establishing 20 million trees to help tackle climate change, creating green corridors for people and nature near towns and cities, running a year-long campaign to connect people with nature and continuing investment in arts and heritage.

Reopening the National Trust in Sussex

In June, the charity started a phased reopening of some of its gardens and parklands, keen to share these beautiful places once more with the thousands of people wanting to escape into fresh air and nature. At the time of going to print, advance booking is required, to limit visitor numbers and maintain public safety, and the safety of staff. Over the summer, the Trust hopes to gradually reopen some of its houses too. Throughout this time, the organisation is urging people to ‘stay local’ – enjoying visits to their local garden and green space rather than travelling further afield.

Director-General Hilary McGrady said “I am so thankful that our members and supporters have stood by us as we work through these unprecedented times. We know they desperately want to return to our places, and we need their support to do our vital conservation work to look after the coastline, countryside, rivers and properties in our care.”

“Like so many other organisations, the Trust has been badly affected by the coronavirus lockdown, not least our vital conservation work and our finances. Reopening is the first phase of our recovery, and we need our members and supporters to help us make this gradual transition a success so we can get back to offering nature, beauty and history for everyone.”

To find out which places are open in East and West Sussex please visit the website, however here are our favourites…

Sheffield Park

Located between East Grinstead and Lewes, this magical garden is a horticultural work of art formed through centuries of landscape design, with influences of ‘Capability’ Brown and Humphry Repton. Four lakes form the heart of the garden, with paths circulating through the glades and wooded areas surrounding them. Each owner has left their impression, which can still be seen today in the layout of the lakes, the construction of Pulham Falls, the planting of Palm Walk and the many different tree and shrub species from around the world.

The historic parkland forms a larger footprint for the Sheffield Park estate. Dating back several centuries, it has had many uses including a deer park and WWII camp, and is now grazed with livestock and home to a natural woodland play trail in Ringwood Toll. The River Ouse runs across the bottom of the parkland and the original meanders are still visible winding across the meadow. This area has been transformed into a wildlife haven and is home to a diverse range of species including kingfishers, birds of prey, butterflies, and dragonflies.

 Standen House and Garden

In West Sussex you’ll find Standen House and Gardens, an Arts and Crafts family home, set in a beautiful hillside garden.

James and Margaret Beale chose an idyllic location with views across the Sussex countryside for their rural retreat. Designed by Philip Webb, the house is one of the finest examples of Arts and Crafts workmanship and is set amongst a garden which features the plants that inspired the iconic patterns created by Morris & Co.

A major restoration of the 5-hectare (12-acre) hillside garden showcases year-round seasonal highlights and an award-winning plant collection. On the wider estate, footpaths lead out into the woodlands, Ashdown Forest and wider High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.


Bateman’s sits nestled in the High Weald countryside, surrounded by fields and woodland. The garden that made Rudyard Kipling feel like an English country gentleman includes a river running through a wild flower meadow, a watermill, orchard and a formal rose garden.

When Kipling saw Bateman’s it was the retreat from the outside world he had been looking for, with the combination of garden, meadows and woods.

He set about enhancing the garden, making an orchard, dividing up the spaces with yew hedges and created a kitchen garden within the walls of what is known as the Mulberry Garden – because of the tree Kipling planted.

The Kipling’s lived here from 1902 until 1936 and during this time they gradually bought the surrounding farmland, which now comprises the 300-acre estate.  The 12-acre garden nestles comfortably in the centre of the estate.

Local summer walks

During these tough times, we can at least relieve some of our stress and frustration by taking a summer stroll through a local stretch of countryside. If you’re lucky enough to be close to the South Downs, you might like to take a look at the Trust’s series of downloadable walks, which will take you out into glorious open downland covered in wildflowers, scented herbs and flitting butterflies. From gentle one mile strolls to longer more challenging trails, a walk is a chance to mentally and physically unwind, to instil a sense of peace, and give us space to gather our thoughts. And of course it also brings us closer to nature – an opportunity to take in the smell of wild honeysuckle, listen to skylarks singing high above us, or simply to sit and drink in an amazing view.

You can find favourite Sussex walks on the National Trust website, including the 3.8 mile Nore Hill walk across the picturesque Slindon estate near Chichester. The route meanders through sun-dappled ancient woodland and up to Nore Hill folly – built in 1814 for the Countess of Newbury’s picnic parties. Enjoy your own picnic there and soak up panoramic views down to the sea. In East Sussex, the two mile Devil’s Dyke Fulking walk takes in banks of chalk downland teaming with flowers and wildlife, and spectacular views across the downs and the village of Fulking.

Practical picnicking

Talking of picnics, now that much of our glorious countryside has re-opened, we can once again enjoy this great British summer pastime. Eating al fresco makes everything taste nicer, but if you want a helping hand, the National Trust has put together some top tips on how to have a successful picnic, together with delicious summertime recipes, from lemon and oregano chicken skewers, to bite-sized raspberry and white chocolate mini sponges. During the first four weeks of the country’s lockdown, thousands of people visited the online recipes, with cheese scones topping the list at over 54,000 visits!  Be sure to visit the website to discover these iconic recipes for yourself and in the meantime, here are some of the top picnicking tips…

Set the scene 
1. Blowing hot and cold
Think about cool-bags and ice packs for hot days, and flasks for keeping food or drink hot or cold. Make sure to pre-heat flasks with boiling water or pre-chill them with ice, as appropriate. Flasks are good for soups (this is a UK picnic after all) or for carrying ice cubes or cold milk. Carry milk separately for a better-tasting hot drink.

2. Basket case
Picnic baskets come in many shapes and sizes, from the suitcase-like hamper with place settings for several people strapped into the lid, to the double-lidded shopping-basket. The former has the blessing of tradition and neatness, but the change in orientation when carried by the handle, makes it less suitable for some foods.

The shopping-basket with a lid is better for delicate items and things that need to be kept upright. Put a frozen ice pack or two underneath anything that needs to be kept cold.

For the more practical option, picnic backpacks are more convenient to carry. Less traditional, but with compartments for keeping food or drinks hot or cold, they can be a solution for those who want a more elaborate meal as part of a long walk.

3. Presentation is everything
When presenting food, consider the occasion. Is your picnic supposed to be romantic, a reference to elaborate nineteenth-century affairs, or a throwback to the glamorous 1930s? Or is it something that picks up on the current vogue for mid-twentieth-century design with twenty-first century touches? Picnics are, at heart, frivolities and it’s fun to look beyond the simply practical.

4. To spork or not to spork that is the question?
Much picnic food, especially sandwiches and things in pastry, don’t need anything except fingers for eating, but bigger, more elegant meals do. Sporks – spoon–fork hybrids – are an ideal solution for minimalists. However, a collection of inexpensive lightweight cutlery is a great investment for picnics. Remember to think about the environment and choose sustainably.

5. It’s the little things…
Take a small board and a sharp knife or two for cutting bread, cheese, fresh fruit and cake, a butter knife, and spoons. It’s always good to have a corkscrew and a bottle opener in the pack. Add salt and pepper mills, bottled sauces and other seasoning mixtures. Cloth napkins are an excellent idea. Biodegradable wet wipes and kitchen paper is invaluable, as is a bag or two for collecting rubbish. Always, always, take your rubbish home or dispose of it in designated bins.

6. No-one wants a prickly bum
Comfort is important. Take a couple of picnic rugs with waterproof backings to sit on, and a couple of non-waterproof rugs to wrap around yourself if the weather turns cold. A few cushions soften the ground for those who prefer to lounge.

7. Not all guests are welcome
As much as we love insects for pollinating flowers, they’re not always the most welcome guests at a picnic. Citronella tealights in holders, if they can be placed safely and avoid any risk of fire, are a possible solution against insects in the evening.

Try to avoid ants’ nests, accept that wasps will be keen to join your party in late summer, and take an environmentally friendly insect repellent. The best solution is to find a spot with a slight breeze, which helps keep biting insects at bay.

8. Mad dogs and English men…
Don’t forget hats, cover-ups and sunscreen – you never know, they may be needed.

Important picnicking stuff: when choosing your picnic spot, try not to set up camp close to grazing herds or wildlife that might be disturbed by your presence. Litter and discarded picnic items are not only a visual blight, they put wildlife at risk of become trapped and tangled. Many animals will attempt to eat food packaging too, causing internal injuries. And just as importantly, please don’t bring a barbecue or make a campfire; it only takes a small spark from a single barbecue to ignite the surrounding grass or foliage – the National Trust and other conservation organisations have experienced a number of large fires already this year.

Summer garden know-how

Whilst we’ve been stuck at home, many of us lucky enough to have our own outdoor space have turned to gardening for comfort, therapy and joy. In the Trust’s historic gardens – places like the Arts and Crafts garden at Standen near Haywards Heath, and Rudyard Kipling’s former home Batemans near Burwash – a skeleton team of gardeners continued to carry out essential maintenance, so that these beautiful places would be ready to safely welcome visitors when the time came.

Throughout, the Trust’s gardening experts have provided a host of inspirational gardens-themed content online, for use to enjoy – from basics like how to keep on top of weeds and when to water plants, to the serious business of dealing with black spot on roses. There’s advice on summer lawn care, how to create a mini meadow and spot wildflowers, even garden design. You’ll find top tips on cucurbit care too – that’s courgettes, cucumbers, squashes and pumpkins.’ Plus discover how the Trust’s own gardening experts started their careers in horticulture.

Making a wildlife-friendly garden

One of the most important things you can consider of course, is how to make your outdoor space more nature-friendly. This is something at the very core of the National Trust’s values, and rangers and garden teams work tirelessly to increase the wildlife diversity of its gardens, alongside woods, heaths, rivers and downs.

Whether you live in the countryside or the city, our gardens represent valuable havens for wildlife to thrive in even the most built up landscapes. By making your garden attractive to insects and other animals, it’ll give you a chance to observe nature up close and personal on a daily basis. Flower-rich borders, shrubs, mini-meadows, bird boxes and bug hotels all help to support and attract wildlife. Even a small garden can be transformed from a wildlife desert to a species-rich habitat if you choose the right plants and are not overly tidy.  For instance, bees love herbs such as thyme and marjoram. Primroses, foxgloves and ivy are also good.

The National Trust’s ‘Nine ways to build a wildlife-friendly garden’ is packed with fun ideas that the whole family can get involved in. How about building an insect hotel? There’s tips on what materials you need, once you’ve decided who you want to attract, whether it’s hedgehogs, or smaller creatures like woodlice and spiders. And you don’t need a lot of space. Another quick win is to try mowing your lawn just once every four week too; it’ll give short-grass plants like daisies and white clover a chance to flower in profusion, boosting nectar production tenfold for butterflies and bees.

Summer family fun

The Great Outdoors, whether it’s a back garden, a local park or a sandy beach, is an adventure playground for kids. The National Trust has helped introduced thousands of families to the delights of being outdoors and in nature through its ’50 things to do before you’re 11¾’ fun challenges. The summer holidays are now approaching, but for parents in need of inspiration there’s help at hand with the Trust’s range of downloadable activity sheets full of ideas to stimulate and inspire kids of all ages. There’s loads to choose from, whatever the weather, from Peter Rabbit story writing and puzzle solving challenges to den-making kits and nature-themed craft activities like how to make your own binoculars.’). JC getting sign off for Peter Rabbit mention from Ben Crump.

Help the National Trust protect the places you love

This year has been an incredibly tough one for many of us, and the National Trust, like most charities, has been hit hard, with an expected loss this year alone of around £200 million. However, the organisation is determined to keep caring for and protecting the places you love, so that you can continue to have wonderful new experiences and make special memories. Membership gives you free entry to hundreds of beautiful houses, gardens, and parks, but even more importantly, your support will help the Trust to carry out essential conservation work, protecting the wildlife and landscapes of places like the dramatic and ancient flower-filled Devil’s Dyke valley near Brighton, and the beautiful patchwork of woods, downland, farmland and parkland that makes up the Slindon estate. Adult membership costs just £6 a month, and family membership is £10 a month or less. To find out more visit: